Stiff Neck and Sore Throat: Causes and Treatments

Neck stiffness and throat pain can feel like a huge burden for you to bear. These common symptoms affect a lot of people who in most cases don’t know their cause. You might assume that these are generic symptoms, but they could be signs of more serious issues. For instance, lymph glands in the back of the throat swell during a sore throat, leading to stiffness in the neck. The symptoms can also arise due to several other health conditions as we will see in this discussion.

What Causes Stiff Neck and Sore Throat?

Some of the common causes are list below. But only a checkup from the professional can make the diagnosis.

1. Mononucleosis

One of the causes is mononucleosis, also referred to as the kissing disease. Patients generally suffer from fever, sore throat and stiff neck. The infection can be passed through kissing a person who is already suffering from the disease. Teenagers are at a higher risk of getting infected, although people of all ages can get it.

Treatment must be started as soon as it is diagnosed, as ignorance may worsen the condition over time. Failure to treat the condition at the right time or delayed diagnoses of the disease can cause the virus to remain in a dormant state within the individual’s body.

2. Strep Throat

The streptococcal bacteria can easily spread, causing strep throat, also referred to as streptococcal pharyngitis. It is not a serious condition and you are likely to suffer from it several times in your lifetime.

The most common symptoms include fever, problems with swallowing, headache, stiff neck and sore throat. The stiffness is generally a result of the swollen lymph glands at the back of the throat. You can use medications to lessen the symptoms and reduce pain. The condition will usually clear within a few days.

3. Meningitis

This is an inflammation of the membrane surrounding your brain and spinal cord. The common symptoms include stiff neck, headache, and fever. However, these symptoms are not experienced by all. Only 45% of patients suffer from all three of these signs, while the others notice at least one of them.

Classic symptoms of meningitis:

  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Fever and chills
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritation from bright lights
  • Some form of upper respiratory tract infection (such as sore throat, flu or cold)

4. Tonsillitis

Tonsils are large-sized lymph nodes responsible for preventing the entry of bacteria and other dangerous organisms. They are located at the back of the throat. If tonsils are over-stuffed with these hazardous organisms, there are chances of inflammation. This condition is known as tonsillitis.

A person suffering from tonsillitis will experience symptoms like severe stiff neck, sore throat, swallowing problems, earache, chills, fever, headache, and vocal changes.

How to Help with Stiff Neck and Sore Throat

1. Mononucleosis

The following self-care methods can help in curing mononucleosis:

  • Proper rest. You may have to avoid school or work for a while and bed rest is essential.
  • Throat soothers. Salt water gargles or throat lozenges may help. These are suitable for all age groups.
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control fever and headache, and relieve a sore throat. Read the instructions before consuming medication as aspirin may have adverse effects in those under the age of 20 years.
  • Avoiding lifting heavy weights. Your spleen may be swollen and straining or exertion of any kind could lead it to burst.
  • Stronger medicines. Corticosteroids are advisable for severe cases of swollen throat, tonsils or spleen.

2. Strep Throat


A patient diagnosed with strep throat will be prescribed antibiotics as these prevent the bacteria from spreading in the body. There are many types of antibiotics that the doctor can prescribe, but penicillin and amoxicillin are generally the preferred medications for strep infection.

Please note that the antibiotic treatment must be completed to kill the infection. Some patients avoid taking medication once an improvement is noticed; however, this is not advisable and the symptoms of stiff neck and sore throat can return.

Over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen help to reduce throat pain and fever.

Home Remedies

There are also some home remedies that can help improve symptoms. These include:

  • Warm liquids like tea or lemon water
  • Cold liquids
  • Keeping a cold-mist humidifier around you
  • Sucking on throat lozenges
  • Salt water gargles ( ½ tsp of salt in 1 cup of hot water)

3. Meningitis

The treatment for bacterial meningitis is not easy and you may be given antibiotics in hospital. Steroidal medicines like dexamethasone may also be prescribed. Your condition must be monitored on a regular basis to ensure that the disease does not worsen and lead to seizures, impaired hearing or brain damage.

Cases of viral meningitis are much more common as compared to bacterial meningitis. These patients need about two weeks to get cured and in cases of mild disease, home treatment may also work. Home remedies include pain relievers, fever medications and drinking lots of fluid to remain hydrated.

4. Tonsillitis

Basic Treatments

  • Rest. This enables the body to direct more energy in fighting the infection.
  • Drinking fluids in large quantities. It helps keep the throat hydrated to promote healing. Taking warm, caffeine-free drinks is also advisable.
  • Salt water gargles to soothe the throat
  • Sucking on throat lozenges
  • Turning on an air humidifier in your room
  • Avoiding smoky locations and consumption of tobacco
  • Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen


Bacterial tonsillitis infections require antibiotics for treatment. Penicillin is most commonly prescribed by doctors. The course for antibiotic treatment must be completed as infection may further spread if the antibiotic course is not completed.


Surgery was in the past a common treatment for clearing tonsillitis. However, today it is limited to conditions that are recurrent or chronic. These include patients who experience tonsillitis 7 times in a year or have 3 episodes a year for 3 consecutive years.

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